Calls for more transparency around notifying parents about COVID-19 cases in school

A case of COVID-19 at a B.C. school this fall won’t necessarily mean all parents will automatically be notified. While that will be up to public health to decide, some feel the information should be shared.

Alena Astashenkava’s sons will be starting kindergarten and Grade 2 this fall, and when class gets underway, she said she’d like to be informed about any COVID-19 cases at school.

“Absolutely, because then we can make our own decisions about visiting our grandparents or staying home and being more careful,” she said.

However, according to current guidelines from the BC Centre for Disease Control, public health will work with the school to determine what action needs to be taken, including whether there are people who have been in contact with the case who need to self-isolate, and if other staff or parents should be notified.

“Schools should not provide notification to staff or students’ families if a staff member or student becomes ill at home or at school, including if they display symptoms of COVID-19, unless directed to by public health,” the guidelines read.

Education Minister Rob Fleming said while they hope there are no outbreaks, there is a plan to deal with any should they arise, and it’s a public health-led process.

As for notifying parents, he said: “If that’s what the investigation requires, then public health officials would coordinate with the school to do exactly that.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix said every case is taken seriously.

“Every case is assessed, every case is contact-traced, every case is worked on, people are contacted consistently, and where it’s important to inform people based on the medical evidence, we’ll do that.”

Epidemiologist and University of Ottawa associate professor Raywat Deonandan said information about cases at schools should be shared, along with all the steps being taken to mitigate any risk.

"We’re in an era of distrust and the only way to combat distrust is transparency,” he said, and added once the process surrounding dealing with cases in school is made a normal part of life, it won’t be something to fear.

"If that process is communicated with acuity and sensitivity and transparency, it’ll instil into people confidence and not panic,” he said. “Confidence that we know what we’re doing, and we’re responding right.”

Deonandan said he thinks parents do want to know, even though the cost of that knowledge may be a "degree of panic," at least initially.

"You might get some parents pulling their kids out of school that don’t need to, if they haven’t been exposed. But this is going to be a growing pain, I think.” he said. “We empower people by giving them information and by allowing them to make their own decision, and giving them the tools to navigate that decision-making process, as well.”

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